sunnuntai 24. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Captain America and The Avengers | SNES | 1993

GENRE(S): Beat 'em up / Shoot 'em up
DEVELOPER(S): Data East, Opera House (GEN), Realtime Associates (GG), Mindscape (SNES)
PUBLISHER(S): Mindscape, Data East (GEN)

Quarters turned into millions whenever there was an arcade game dedicated to punching and kicking. Before the emergence of dozens of one-on-one fighting games, starting with Street Fighter II, there was the side-scrolling beat 'em up, somewhat pioneered by Double Dragon as early as 1987, or if you really want to dig deep, Kung-Fu Master (later ported to the NES as the classic Kung Fu) in 1984. Even comic book heroes often excelled in this genre - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a few classic beat 'em ups to their credit, and Nintendo's versions of Batman Returns fared quite well. In 1991, Data East made a fairly popular arcade game starring Marvel's supergroup The Avengers - one version of it, anyway. An NES game of the same title was made the same year, but it was a generic platformer. In 1993, a 16-bit port of the arcade game was made, along with a couple of stripped handheld versions. Now this game has the potential to be good and memorable, unlike its pseudo-counterpart on the NES. But it isn't. As a matter of fact, it might be even worse. By far, the only positive side to it is that you don't even have to see Captain America in the whole game beyond the title screen.

Avengers' darkest hour

Captain America's arch nemesis Red Skull has put together a supergroup of villains, including Klaw, Living Laser, The Mandarin, Ultron and a group of Sentinels, in an effort to take over the world. Sounds like a job that no superhero can handle on his own - enter The Avengers.

I was really pumped about this game, seriously. Even though Captain America's the title character, you won't have to play as him at all if you don't want to. Iron Man - one of my Marvel favourites - and The Vision, someone who has appeared in way too few games perhaps due to his complexity, inhumanity and unfamiliarity to worldwide masses, return from their embarrassing exile in the NES game to hand out some punishment right alongside the already familiar playable characters, Cap and Hawkeye. (As a personal note, The Vision was actually the first Marvel character I ever idolized, as odd as it seems. My long-standing favourites such as Spider-Man, X-Men and Iron Man came a lot later.)

You will see the word "crush" is used a lot.
The rest of the line-up (Wasp, Quicksilver, Wonder Man and Namor) still only make random guest appearances, but having Tony Stark as a playable character is quite enough to get my juices flowing in the right direction. Besides, it's a side-scrolling beat 'em up. I have good experience from side-scrolling beat 'em ups with licensed characters - which reminds me, I'm quite bedazzled myself that I still haven't taken TMNT on. So, I pour myself a cup of good morning joe, grab the controller humming the lead riff to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man", and get ready to clear some streets of unwanted trash. Even before the title screen comes up, I'm already choking on my coffee and shitting bricks. Mindscape's logo and just a mere mention of The Software Toolworks can do that to you. As a horrible voice sample introduces the game, and the opening credits with the heroes' vitals roll, I still don't know what I'm getting myself into. But judging by who made this port, I have a pretty good idea about that - and sometimes I outright loathe myself for being correct. Suddenly I find myself respecting their educational Mario games a bit more - the fact that they rarely made real games must've been because they didn't know how to do it.

Well, the graphics are fair enough and there's a comic book feel to the in-game action. Returning to TMNT, especially TMNT II since it was made earlier than III or IV (NO SHIT!) - I would've hoped for the cutscenes to be a little bit more alive, though. The port for the NES (make a note) was made in 1990, and it featured actual cutscenes and many cinematic events during gameplay. It was so exciting for a kid into TMNT to watch - and the fancy graphics alone would've made for a good memory, if the game wasn't so great in every way. Well, this SNES game (make another note) was made in 1993, and it features still images, like comic book cutouts, and there's rarely anything extra happening in the background during gameplay. OK, to be fair, there are four playable characters that might all look totally different at first sight. But still, it's 8 versus 16, with a few years in between. The voice samples are consistently horrible, and constant. You might want to M.Y.M., 'cause the hectic music doesn't call for any celebration either.

The vital charts of the characters which indeed serve as the opening credits make believe that there are some sort of strategic patterns to using them - you get to choose characters between each defeat - but there isn't. Even though their moves look different, they function the same and each character is on the exact same level of strength and endurance, no matter what variety of crap the game feeds you. As much as I'd like to play as Stark and him alone, I had to choose another character for the sake of comparison. Of course, I chose The Vision. I was disappointed to see that both characters share the very same quirks, and neither one of them is any more comfortable to use than the other. Even in the TMNT games on the NES, I found Donatello easier and more comfortable to control than any other Turtle. It might be all in my head, but even that's better than sensing no difference at all. As far as SNES games go, in Final Fight there were essential differences between the characters - and the SNES port of that game came out in 1990 as well. Batman Returns had only one playable character, but mostly good controls, diverse movement, and fuckin' great graphics. That came out some months before Cap U.S.A. and The Ravagers, I believe. This game is stuck in a time it didn't even exist in arcades. Fuckin' great graphics? Not really. Diverse movement? Sure... maybe. Good controls? Not in the slightest.

Since we got to compiling some sort of an encyclopedia of what's what in the field of side-scrolling beat 'em ups, let's take a look back at a game called Battletoads & Double Dragon - The Ultimate Team. The NES game was good, I liked it - the SNES version was a huge disappointment, the biggest reason to which was the relationship between horrible controls and the fact that you were surrounded all the time, assraped to oblivion with very little chance to execute a personal space attack. Well, in Captain America and The Avengers that shit happens all the time. All the time, from the very beginning, and there is no personal space attack at all, at least not to my knowledge. Then there are these enemies, right from the beginning who you can't even hit with anything else than just one specific attack which is difficult to launch from the middle of a raging horde of thugs. Then there are way too many regular enemies with unblockable projectile attacks, that take at least ten points off your health at once. You pretty much need someone other as stupid as you to play the game, to take care of enemies on the edges of the screen, while you're desperately trying to maul the horde in the smack middle of it. That's when they usually strike with those ultra-annoying projectiles.

The NES and SNES games have very little in common, but there are two things. Diverse movement, only in this one it counts for at least something. But, bad controls. Horrible, rock hard controls - all movement is somewhat delayed and there's no room for quick combos. Each character comes to an awkward pause after every single move, the slightest one, leaving them prone to attacks and leaving you wondering what the hell's a gamer to do to be able to even dream of finishing this game. Just using your projectile attack all the time and throughout might work - but then again, how fun and effective is that? Well, I guess it can't make the experience any worse or less obsolete than it already is.

Captain America and The Avengers for the SNES is not only stale, boring and a pain in the ass, it's also somewhat of a disappointment. There are not only better and earlier games from other media franchises to consider, there are also better Marvel games of the same basic structure - that's why I expected at least something from it, most of all a better experience than the NES game. The Captain America theme does very little to annoy here, but this little quantum of comfort isn't enough.

+ The sight of Iron Man, and the fact that you don't even have to see Captain America in action
+ A pretty good ensemble cast for true comic book fans to get pumped up about
+ The shoot 'em up levels are not too fun, but at least they offer a break

- Horrible controls
- Horrible sound
- Somewhat empty and obsolete in every possible way
- Impossible difficulty for all the wrong reasons
- No differences between how the four theoretically totally different characters play out
- General enemy behaviour would be dastardly even if there was a scattering attack, and even if the controls were better

< 4.5 >

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